Table of Contents:
David Riesman, Sociologist Whose ‘Lonely Crowd’ Became a Best Seller, Dies at 92: NYTimes, May 11, 2002
Yelp and the Wisdom of “The Lonely Crowd”: Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New Yorker, May 7, 2013
David Riesman: From Law to Social Criticism: Daniel Horowitz, Buffalo Law Review, 1950
‘The Lonely Crowd,’ at 60, Is Still Timely: Rupert Wilkinson, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 12, 2010
David Riesman, Sociologist Whose ‘Lonely Crowd’ Became a Best Seller, Dies at 92
NYTimes, May 11, 2002
David Riesman, the sociologist whose 1950 scholarly book, ”The Lonely Crowd,” unexpectedly tapped a deep vein of self-criticism among Americans and became a perennial best seller, contributing ideas and descriptive phrases to popular culture, died yesterday in Binghamton, N.Y. He was 92 and had lived for many years in Cambridge, Mass.
”The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character,” written with Reuel Denney and Nathan Glazer, prompted millions of Americans to begin characterizing their friends, neighbors and associates as ”other-directed,” ”inner-directed” or, occasionally, ”tradition-directed.”
In ”The Lonely Crowd” Professor Riesman identified those character types and declared that the prevalence of each within a society was determined by trends in population growth. The book contended that during periods or in cultures with a relatively stable population, a balanced social order and little technological change — the Middle Ages, for example, or contemporary countries relatively untouched by industrialization — the dominant character type was tradition-directed.
Such people, he said, based their lives on rules ”dictated to a very large degree by power relations among the various age and sex groups, the clans, castes, professions — relations which have endured for centuries and are modified but slightly, if at all, by successive generations.”
Professor Riesman said that in periods of technological progress and population growth, like the Renaissance and the Reformation, people developed a capacity to go it alone and set lifelong goals for themselves based on values like wealth, fame, the search for scientific truth, the quest for religious salvation and the creation of beauty.
But in periods in which consumption overtook production and the population was leveling off or even declining, he said a society became less dynamic, and its members more other-directed. In these circumstances, people seek to become accepted into the mainstream by conforming to the expectations and preferences of peer groups. Professor Riesman thought the United States was in this third phase, becoming a culture of more and more other-directed citizens. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Yelp and the Wisdom of “The Lonely Crowd”
New Yorker, May 7, 2013
David Riesman spent the first half of his career writing one of the most important books of the twentieth century. He spent the second half correcting its pervasive misprision. “The Lonely Crowd,” an analysis of the varieties of social character that examined the new American middle class, appeared in 1950 to what Riesman, a lawyer who ended up teaching sociology, once called “quite astringent criticism” in the relevant academic prints. He was surprised, and of course pleased, that the book went on to find a wide general audience, but spent decades reckoning with the cost of its popularity: namely, the “profound misinterpretation” of the book as a simplistic critique of epidemic American postwar conformity via its description of the contours of the “other-directed character,” whose identity and behavior is shaped by its relationships. Riesman did his best, in prefaces to two subsequent editions of the book (at great length in 1961, and, with some brittleness about having to do it once more, in 1969), to correct this reading—to insist that he never meant to suggest that Americans now were any more conformist than they ever had been, or that there’s even such a thing as social structure without conformist consensus.
With the rise of the Internet, Riesman’s book—which is, at its root, a discussion of the emotional life of information—has become even more relevant now than it was in the nineteen-fifties. But it won’t be of much use if it continues to be read as a book about all the miserable conformists. (It has probably not helped that the publisher, Yale University Press, put a flock of jammed sheep on the book’s cover.) Critics like Lee Siegel continue to press a distorted Riesman into the service of any given day’s anti-Internet jeremiad. In this past weekend’s Styles section of the New York Times, Siegel uses “The Lonely Crowd” to analyze the putative “Yelpification” of contemporary life: according to Siegel, Riesman’s view was that “people went from being ‘inner-directed’ to ‘outer-directed,’ from heeding their own instincts and judgment to depending on the judgments and opinions of tastemakers and trendsetters.” The “conformist power of the crowd” and its delighted ability to write online reviews led Siegel down a sad path to a lackluster expensive dinner. Unhappy with his monkfish and the names of the desserts, Siegel writes that “gone are the days when ‘conformist’ was a slur on someone’s character. Now the idea is that if you are not following the crowd of five-star dispensers, you’re a tasteless, undiscriminating shlub.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
David Riesman: From Law to Social Criticism
Buffalo Law Review, 1950
In the fall of 1937, David Riesman began what turned out to be four years of teaching at the University of Buffalo Law School. He seemed to be on the path to a major career in the law. He had recently graduated from Harvard Law School, having served on the Law Review and impressing Felix Frankfurter enough that Frankfurter recommended his student for a Supreme Court clerkship with Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis. The careers of the others who clerked for Brandeis suggested what might have been in store for Riesman. Preceding him were Calvert Magruder (later, a Harvard Law School professor and then a judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals); Dean Acheson (who started at Covington and Burling, and would later serve as Secretary of State); Harry Shulman (eventually dean of Yale Law School); and Paul Freund (a Harvard Law School professor and distinguished scholar of the U.S. Constitution). After Riesman came J. Willard Hurst (arguably the founding father of American legal history). If Riesman was the only one of those who clerked for Brandeis who did not have a career in the law, he nonetheless had a distinguished career.
With the publication of The Lonely Crowd in 1950, a little more than a dozen years after he left Buffalo, Riesman emerged as one of the most famous and influential sociologists of his generation. How, then, do we understand this man and his career: educated as a lawyer, but making his mark as a sociologist—a field in which he had neither formal training nor a degree? A writer who early on authored a dozen articles published in law reviews, but who displayed in The Lonely Crowd no interest in the law? Someone who early in his career focused on labor legislation, group libel, and civil liberties—but who in his 1950 book turned his attention elsewhere, including advertising as a means of educating consumers?
From Law to Sociology
In 1950, University of Chicago professor David Riesman (1909-2002) published The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. The book quickly became the nation’s most influential and widely read mid-century work of social and cultural criticism. It catapulted its author to the cover of Timemagazine in 1954, making Riesman the first social scientist so honored. With The Lonely Crowd Riesman offered a nuanced and complicated portrait of the nation’s middle and upper-middle classes. Though he recognized the power of economic forces to produce affluence, The Lonely Crowd nonetheless is a key text in what historian Howard Brick has called the “displacement” of the economy and economics in the social sciences at midcentury.2 … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
The Lonely Crowd,’ at 60, Is Still Timely
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 12, 2010
For many Chronicle readers, the most relevant work of David Riesman may be the milestone book he wrote with Christopher Jencks, The Academic Revolution(Doubleday, 1968), on America’s dual trends toward mass higher education and elitist meritocracy. But the book that put him on a Time cover was The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character, with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, published by Yale University Press in 1950, 60 years ago this October. (Riesman died in 2002, Denney in 1995.)
The Lonely Crowd was part of a stream of writing on tendencies in American “social character” that flourished between the 1940s and 1980s, peaking in the 50s and early 60s. It described a shift in the way Americans followed society’s prescriptions, from a 19th-century “inner-direction”—behavior internalized at an early age from parents and other elders—to a mid-20th-century “other-direction,” flexibly responsive to “peer groups” and the media. Key metaphors were the “gyroscope” of inner-direction versus the “radar” of other-direction. (During World War II, Riesman had been a lawyer for Sperry Gyroscope, makers of gyroscopic bombsights.) Inner-direction provided moral stability in a rapidly developing society. Unlike “tradition-directed” people, dependent on external rules in older, more static societies, inner-directed people could carry their precepts anywhere. But other-direction was more suited to a bureaucratic age of sales, services, and “human relations.”
The book spoke to middle-class concerns about conformity and softness in the new, standardized suburbs of postwar America. For all its moralistic rigidities, the inner-directed type looked more individualistic, hence more attractive to many Americans, though Riesman insisted that in other-direction he did not depict more conformity but rather a change in “modes of conformity”—the way people were induced to conform. …. [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:
Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) Guide for the Perplexed, 2020: Yoram Ettinger, The Ettinger Report, Sept. 30, 2020–– Jewish national liberation. The 7-day-holiday of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is the 3rd Jewish pilgrimage holiday (following Passover and Shavou’ot – Pentecost), which has been celebrated for the last 3,300 years.
Guide to the David Riesman Papers 1947-1982: University of Chicago Library
David Riesman Reconsidered: Norman Mailer, Dissent, Fall 1954 — The only review of Individualism Reconsidered by David Riesman (The Free Press, 1954) which I have seen up to this writing is a dithyrambic piece of Granville Hicks’ in The New Leader of July 19, 1954. He concludes his appreciation by saying, “What I am sure of, however, is that this culture of ours, even if it should vanish from the earth, would survive in men’s minds as an example of what the human race can accomplish. Among the forces which have forged that conviction must be included the writings of David Riesman.”
This week’s Communiqué Isranet is: Communiqué: Pourquoi les Européens ont-ils tant de difficulté à digérer la paix entre Israël et les pays du Golfe?